US Antiterrorism Law challenged in courts

[TamilNet, Friday, 20 March 1998, 23:59 GMT]
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California yesterday charging that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 is unconstitutional insofar as it criminalizes the provision of material support or resources to the lawful and non-violent activities of any foreign organization designated as "terrorist" by the Secretary of State.

A press release issued by the CCR said that the suit was filed by eight plaintiffs who wish to provide support to the political and humanitarian activities of two organizations that were designated by the Secretary of State on October 8, 1997 -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and "the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the leading political organization advocating for the human rights and self-determination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka."

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that fund-raising for the lawful activities of a foreign terrorist organization is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, absent a specific intent to further the illegal ends of the group.

The press release stated that the plaintiffs include five Tamil-American organizations, the Ilankai Thamil Sangam, the Tamils of Northern California, the Tamil Welfare and Human Rights Committee, the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), and Dr. Jeyalingam, a Tamil-born surgeon who is a naturalized United States citizen.

These six plaintiffs "wish to provide various forms of political and humanitarian assistance to the LTTE, including the donation of food, clothing and other necessaries to orphanages and refugee relief centers run by the LTTE, the donation of books and educational materials to schools run by the LTTE, cash contributions to the LTTE to finance the lawsuit it filed in the D.C. Circuit Court on November 6, 1997 challenging the Secretary of State's decision to designate it as a foreign terrorist organization, and the distribution of LTTE literature in the United States," the press release stated.

Nancy Chang, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, explained, "The Antiterrorism Law is having the effect of intimidating the plaintiffs from the exercise of their First Amendment rights. A conviction under the law can result in an extremely harsh punishment of up to 10 years of imprisonment and a substantial fine. So, despite the fact that the plaintiffs firmly believe that the law is unconstitutional, they wish to avoid criminal prosecution and conviction. For this reason, they seek a court ruling that the law is unconstitutional."

David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, explained the legal theory behind the case: "The Antiterrorism Law violates a cardinal principle of the First Amendment -- it imposes guilt by association, rather on the basis of one's acts. The Antiterrorism Law makes it a crime to send blankets to a refugee relief center, not because doing so is wrong, but because the government has designated the group that runs the center as terrorist. This is guilt by association, which is prohibited by the First Amendment."

Meanwhile, the LTTE's court challenge of its designation is currently pending in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The LTTE has filed a procedural motion requesting access to classified information and that it be given the opportunity to submit evidence on its behalf. The State Department has filed papers opposing this motion. Thus far, the Court has not ruled on this motion.

 

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